Negotiating via Email: Maximising Deal Value From A Distance
It is best to negotiate live, but sometimes that is not an option. In these cases, sellers need to be prepared to leverage strong negotiation skills that translate to email.
Negotiations via email are increasingly common as virtual communication continues to normalise.
Moreover, some customers are choosing to negotiate via email because doing so empowers them with three key advantages. First, email creates distance between the two parties which allows customers to more easily mask their reactions which would otherwise offer valuable clues to the seller. Second, customers can draw out the process as a way to apply pressure. Third, the intervals between emails give customers opportunities to research and leverage competing offers throughout the negotiation.
These characteristics add challenges to the already difficult task of negotiating. Sales professionals need to be prepared.
Here, we offer three key strategies from our Sprint Negotiations™ programme that sellers can apply to the challenges of negotiating via email.
Draft Responses with Consideration for Tone, Brevity, and Clarity
The format of an email can alter communication in unseen ways. It is easy for the customer to misread the seller’s tone when normal cues like inflection, intonation, and cadence are not present. Put simply, people tend to overestimate the reader’s ability to decode their tone in text. Sellers must be careful to strike a tone that will not be misconstrued. In a negotiation setting, the best tone is one that communicates an interest in reaching a mutually beneficial outcome that will ease tensions and create opportunities for future business.
Keep the email text brief. Negotiations are a taxing process that are only made more exhausting when the communication must be read. Make it easy for the customer to understand your messaging by using succinct sentences. This approach is especially important when positioning your offer. Sellers should avoid using compromising language which only elongates the text and suggests a willingness to bargain.
Finally, ensure every email is clear. A lack of clarity not only confuses the customer it also undermines the trust and transparency needed for a successful negotiation. Maintaining clarity means communicating the complete terms of the offer in one email while making a direct link between the value of the solution and the customer’s stated needs.
Written communication that expresses an inclusive tone with brevity and clarity instills confidence in both the seller and their solution while respecting the customer’s time. This approach also avoids the common trap of negotiating with oneself. For example, if the customer states that the terms are not adequate it is important to avoid responding with lengthy text. Instead, use one or two sentences to ask the customer why they believe the offer is not suitable.
Remember that the written medium offers opportunities to craft thoughtful responses. Use this characteristic of email to choose the best phrasing and avoid the stumbles, and run-on sentences that so easily occur when under the pressure of delivering on-the-spot responses.
Use the Time Between Emails to Track Customer Changes
Emails draw out the negotiation process. While this has the effect of slowing the sale it also offers an advantage to the seller by giving them more time to research how the customer’s needs are changing in the moment. This approach is akin to watching the customer move in slow motion. As a result, the seller has ample time to respond with agility.
One of the greatest challenges in selling and negotiating today is the need for quick responses as the customer’s needs change by the minute. The medium of an email removes this challenge. Sellers have the time to reassess between emails. Use that time wisely to explore how the stakeholder’s drivers are changing. Often, the customer’s digital footprint on their site and social media will reveal important clues about their most recent initiatives. A savvy sales professional will use these updates throughout the negotiation process.
This approach is even more effective in a setting consisting of several stakeholders. Each has a different perception of value. Each has an individual set of needs. The space between emails affords the seller the time to explore those differing perceptions and needs. With this information, they can more effectively advocate for the relevance of their solution in the context of the stakeholder’s needs.
The intervals between emails also allow the seller to apply a sharper trading strategy. A trade, rather than a one-sided concession, is effective when both sides need to narrow a gap. With more time on their side, the seller can make a better assessment of their “inventory” of tradable items. Doing so ensures what is received is of equal value to what is given.
Maintain Momentum by Ending Each Email with a Next Step
Each email must lead to the next. The negotiation is likely to stall without a clearly stated next step at the end of each message. Without this approach, a gap will occur in the negotiation which allows room for competing priorities and unforeseen developments to interrupt the process.
The next step does not always need to be a request from the seller to the customer. A next step can be the seller ending their email by stating that they will follow up with a specific piece of information within a certain period. This is a valuable opportunity to demonstrate “knowledge-based trust” which is trust that emerges when we see that someone’s statements and actions align. When the customer develops trust built on experience and evidence, they are more likely to follow through with the purchase because they know they can depend on the seller during solution implementation.
The next step is also an opportunity to ask the customer questions that reveal why they have made a specific demand in the negotiation. The answer to such a question is what enables the seller to eventually convert a demand to a need. This approach is critical to any successful negotiation because a need is always easier to meet than a demand. The reason: a need can often be satisfied with non-financial terms that do not reduce the value of the sale.
Open-ended questions are the most effective kind for this approach. However, asking open-ended questions is difficult in an email because there is less opportunity to explore broad topics. Therefore, sellers should consider presenting the question with a brief example of a time when they meet a customer’s demand by serving their underlying need. Doing so moves the conversation forward by demonstrating that it is possible to address the customer’s demand in numerous ways.
Finally, if the seller has no clear next step in mind, they can simply summarise their understanding of the customer’s needs and ask for confirmation that their review is accurate.
Transitioning from Negotiating via Email to In-Person
While these three practices enable sellers to negotiate via email it is important to recognise when it’s time to suggest a live conversation.
This move is usually appropriate when the customer makes a demand that cannot be converted into a need or when the customer has stopped responding. Additionally, a live conversation is an effective way to de-escalate tensions when a customer becomes overly aggressive.
Build Negotiations Skills with Sprint Negotiations Training
Effective negotiating is what empowers a seller to capitalise on the full scope of work they have put into the sales pursuit. Learn how Richardson Sales Performance can help your sales organisation learn and apply the Sprint Negotiation™ methodology.
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